St. Petersburg Preview

The wait is finally over. In case you haven’t heard, the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off the 2016 season this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

I probably say this every season, but I seem to be looking forward to this season more than most. Perhaps it’s the depth of the field, maybe it’s the intriguing storylines or most likely – I’m just glad that the season is about to start.

As far as the storylines, there are several that I want to watch this season. How will Simon Pagenaud fare in his second season with Team Penske? Has Juan Montoya shaken off the disappointment of losing his season-long championship lead in the last race of the season? Will Josef Newgarden capitalize on his breakout season of a year ago and contend for his first championship this season? Did Honda make the right adjustments to be able to compete with the Chevy aero kit? Can Graham Rahal recapture the magic he found a year ago? Will Alexander Rossi be able to adapt to the DW12? Will Rossi be able to give the necessary focus to a ride that most drivers would covet, now that he has been named the official reserve driver for Manor in Formula One?

What about Conor Daly? How will he perform now that he has a fully funded IndyCar ride for the season? How will James Hinchcliffe perform after almost losing his life in a car just ten months ago? Can Helio Castroneves get his fourth Indianapolis 500 win? Is this Tony Kanaan’s last year? Will Scott Dixon win another championship as he solidifies his place among the sport’s best in history?

With all of those plots coupled with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, things promise to be very interesting for the 2016 season.

Susan and I had hoped to attend this weekend’s race, since we had never been there before. The closest we had come was visiting the track on our honeymoon. In early June, there were still some remnants of the race held a couple of months earlier – especially along Dan Wheldon Way. The heavy snows of January helped make a race in Florida sound very tempting as we made plans to go. But then real life got in the way.

Susan is being sent to another part of Florida on Sunday night for four days of training. We tried working around that where I would travel back to Nashville by myself. Then, I had work meetings scheduled for Friday and Monday, which made attending this race impossible. One of these years…

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has served as the season opener for the Verizon IndyCar series since 2009, except for the 2010 season that kicked off in São Paulo. Normally, this race is run on the last weekend in March. This year, in an attempt to start the season earlier, spread out the season and avoid Easter weekend; the series moved the date up a couple of weekends. I like it because technically, the series is now racing during three seasons – winter, spring and summer. They miss fall by less than a week at the end of this season. When the season extends out past September 21, it’ll cover all four seasons. That should help to keep everyone from complaining too much about the long offseason.

Although Dale Coyne broke tradition and had one fulltime seat filled in December with Conor Daly, he held off on the other one until just a few days ago when he confirmed Luca Filippi for the No.18 car.

There will be four rookies in this race – Spencer Pigot, Max Chilton, Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi – although Pigot, for now, does not appear to be full-time. Chilton, from the UK, is the only non-American in the rookie crop. Out of the twenty-two drivers in the opening race, only eight hail from the US. That is not a big a deal for me, but I know it is to many. Although eight doesn’t sound like a lot, it wasn’t that long ago (2010) that there were only three full-time American drivers – so things are definitely trending in the right direction if you’re looking for more American drivers in the series.

On our One Take Only on Wednesday, John put me on the spot and asked for my predictions on this race and the season. Without thinking about it, I picked Will Power to win the 2016 championship and Helio Castroneves to win the race. I’ll stick with those, just because I made them. But I am very intrigued with the remains of CFH Racing, scaling back to being renamed Ed Carpenter Racing. I think focusing on one full-time car for Josef Newgarden and running Ed on the ovals is a wise move and I think it will pay big dividends. Aside from the fact that Newgarden is a Nashville native, I think he is going to be the driver to really keep a close eye on all season long. He is capable of winning at practically every track. The fact that the both of them had a good showing at the test at Phoenix bodes well, especially since Carpenter had a tough time adjusting to the Chevy aero kit. It appears as if he found something over the winter.

So my official pick for this weekend is Helio, but don’t be surprised if Newgarden comes away with the win. We’ll see.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “St. Petersburg Preview”

  1. Brian McKay north of Saint Petersburg Says:

    Third to vote
    (Team Penske is a safe bet)

  2. I’m not as enthusiastic as I should be about the 2016 season. 22 cars continues the trend of fewer cars every year since 2011 which is not good. Chilton is awful, but I am glad to see Daly and Rossi in Indycar. Sadly… we lost Karam. As for Newgarden and Carpenter I think that the reduction in the team is mostly a bad sign. I think Newgarden and Carpenter can both win races, but the team’s resources and ability to prepare competitive setups on the road and street courses will be reduced by the fact they’re now a 1 car team at those tracks. Hopefully Newgarden and Rahal somehow pull of a miracle and one of them wins the title. I don’t think I can take another Dixon title.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Sorry, it’s hard to read this over the sound of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus running through my head.

    Here’s hoping this race sets a good tone for the season.

  4. Trump wins in Florida ……………………. :o)

  5. I ask for nothing more that that it is a safe race. An exciting race would be a bonus. I hope the words “aero kits” will not again be spoken once the race begins. Considering what the aero kits cost relative to the degree that they enhanced the appearance of the cars, I think it has been kind of like putting very expensive jewelry on an old stripper. (no offense intended to any old strippers out there)

    I’m sure missing that scamp Wheldon.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I would like to never hear during races:
      “tire strategy,” “tire degradation,” “his tires have gone off,” “reds versus the blacks,” “fuel strategy,” “saving fuel,” “making fuel,” “go the distance on his fuel,” “aero kits,” “rear wheel pods,” “debris on the track,” et cetera.

      I pray before most races that no spectator, race worker, race team member, or driver will be injured.
      Last year, in Saint Petersburg, a spectator suffered a skull fracture from airborne aero kit garbage that had flown beyond the track, beyond the fence, and over the Turn 10 grandstand.
      And our beloved Justin Wilson lost his life.
      So I’ll pray that racers in various series in Saint Petersburg don’t drive like selfish idiots, blocking competitors on the main straight and bashing others in turns (looking at you, Rahal, Power, and Castroneves).

  6. The start of a new year is always exciting. This year probably more than most. When I watch that video of RHR’s helmet cam blasting around the St. Petersburg, I can’t help but get fired up. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt either, but folks, racing is a dangerous sport, that is why we all love it so much. I hope the 100th Indy 500 brings a lot of worldwide attention to Indianapolis and the series as well as continue to encourage IndyCar to stretch beyond its inherent I-465 mentality. As much as people have been bitching about the aero kits, I’ll admit they may not add to the vanity of the cars,-( the car was ugly from the beginning lets face it) but they add downforce, they look pretty radical, they are breaking track records all over the place, they differentiate the manufacturers and best of all, they add an element of interest that was non-existent with the Dallara kit.

  7. Before Q but after two practice sessions, this looks like a Power v. Dixon race. I always go with the 9 in these scenarios.

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    My pick is the only car with power steering.

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